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ASSISTED INTERESTS, M’LORD: Files reveal appearance of Lord Gill’s ex legal secretary at Holyrood judicial interests probe – was arranged during secret video conferece with former Lord President

Secret Video chat – Top judge requested help to defeat judicial interests register. KEY EVIDENCE given by Scotland’s former top judge Lord Brian Gill to a Scottish Parliament probe on secretive judicial interests during an evidence session held in November 2015 – received the assistance of a key Judicial Office employee at the request of his former boss during a secret video conference.

Documents now released to the media under Freedom of Information legislation reveal Lord Gill – who had since retired as Scotland’s top judge – requested help from his former legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – to attend a key evidence session at Holyrood in which the judge demanded closure of a three year investigation by MSPs of proposals to require judges to declare their interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The request for Flinn’s personal attendance – came during a previously undisclosed secret video conference held between Gill and his former member of staff on 5 November – just days prior to the meeting with MSPs at Holyrood on 10 November 2015.

During the stormy evidence session with MSPs on the complete lack of judicial transparency on interests, Lord Gill faced questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of his former legal secretary Roddy Flinn.

Gill (73) – who remains bitterly opposed to proposals requiring the judiciary to declare their interests – angrily denied Mr Flinn was present at the hearing as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so.

In response to a grilling from MSPs on Mr Flinn’s status, the top judge incredibly claimed the agenda for the meeting – prepared by the Parliament team – was “wrong”.

And, during the entire evidence session, Mr Flinn did not take or answer any questions from MSPs – despite Gill’s insistence Flinn attend the hearing with him.

The revelation in the documents – of top judges arranging their former staff to show up at Parliamentary hearings in order to oppose calls for increased judicial transparency indicates how concerned the judiciary are on proposals to require judges to declare their financial investments and links to business.

Earlier today, the Judicial Office for Scotland confirmed Mr Flinn – who assisted Lord Gill during the former Lord President’s two year battle against Petition PE1458 – is now the legal secretary to the new Lord President, Lord Carloway.

Letter reveals Legal Secretary required to appear alongside former top judge.

An internal letter from Roddy Flinn to Judicial Office Policy Chief, released via FOI, states: May I advise, firstly, that I am the Lord President’s Legal Secretary, not his Private Secretary; that is a different role, currently held by Mr Paul Gilmour. I continue in my role as Legal Secretary notwithstanding the fact that we are currently awaiting the appointment of a Lord President, as section 4(2) of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 provides that while of the office of Lord President is vacant his functions are exercisable instead by the Lord Justice Clerk, I therefore work to the direction of the Lord Justice Clerk,

I have no documents or other written communications relating to my appearance, with Lord Gill, before the Petitions Committee.

The matter was mentioned briefly in a video-linked discussion with Lord Gill on 5 November, when he indicated that it would be helpful if I attended with him, to assist him in referring to the documentation relevant to the petition under discussion. It is not the sort of detail one would formally record.

I had no difficulty in agreeing to do so.

I considered it important to provide assistance to Lord Gill, and therefore to Parliament, given that I was familiar with the issues and documentation pertaining to the petition.

At the time of the previously undisclosed video conference, Lord Gill was no longer Lord President.

Mr Flinn had ceased to be his legal secretary after his former boss unexpectedly walked out of the top judicial post in May 2015  – giving First Minister Nicola Sturgeon 30 days notice he intended to quit the role as Scotland’s top judge.

Lord Gill – who spent two of his three year term fighting the judicial transparency proposals – was dubbed “Lord No-No” for his refusals to give evidence to MSPs on judges’ undeclared links to big business, secret criminal records & hidden wealth, handed the claim to the Scottish Parliament.

Preferring not to attend the Petitions Committee in person, the top judge sent a series of letters to MSPs – demanding the judiciary remain exempt from the public’s expectation of transparency in Government and those in public life.

As the petition was debated at Holyrood in the Lord President’s absence, it was revealed Lord Gill billed taxpayers for a five day state visit to Qatar. The top judge also travelled to numerous other international destinations – all charged to taxpayers.

An investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper also revealed Scotland’s top judges spent £26,000 on thirty three international trips funded by taxpayers – including journeys to destinations such as Russia, Israel, Switzerland,Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania.

JUDICIAL INTERESTS ON THE BLOCK:

Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015

During  tough exchanges between the ‘retired’ Lord Gill and MSPs last November at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – Lord Gill became embroiled in arguments with MSPs on lines of questioning – reflecting Gill’s underlying aggressive tone at being hauled before MSPs he twice refused to meet.

In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill,  Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.

And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.

Inn a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.

The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.

A statement issued by Lord Gill at the time of Watson’s suspension said: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.

During the hearing Lord Gill also told MSPs Scotland should not be out of step with the rest of the UK on how judges’ interests are kept secret from the public.

Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.

Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.

In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here.

However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.

The proposals to require judges to declare their interests have received widescale cross party backing from MSPs after the issue was debated in the Parliament’s main chamber last October 2014 – Debating the Judges.

The proposals call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

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EIGHT LETTERS, M’LORD: Top judge who branded media & public ‘aggressive’, declared judicial transparency ‘unworkable’ – will finally give evidence to Holyrood probe on judges’ interests register

Lord Gill to finally face MSPs probe on judicial interests. SCOTLAND’S former top judge who spent two of his three year term as Lord Justice General waging a bitter fight against proposals to create a register of judges’ interests – will appear before MSPs tomorrow – Tuesday 10 November 2015.

Lord Brian Gill (73) – Scotland’s longest serving judge who suddenly retired in May 2015 – after serving three years as Lord President & Lord Justice General, will finally give evidence to Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on proposals to require judges to declare their financial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The proposals, widely backed by MSPs after the issue was debated in the Parliament’s main chamber last October 2014 – Debating the Judges – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Although Gill refused two previous invitations to appear before the Public Petitions Committee –  the top judge did not shy from lengthy written tirades against the Scottish Parliament’s curiosity on why judges are so protective of their undeclared interests.

In a total of eight letters spanning the better part of Lord Brian Gill’s tenure as Lord President, the top judge hit out against everyone from politicians to the media amid calls for judicial transparency and a register of judicial interests.

At one point, Gill branded the media, court users, public & litigants as “aggressive”.

And, in between Lord Gill’s global jet setting taxpayer funded tours including a five day visit to Qatar – the top judge pointedly wrote to the Public Petitions Committee implying he may consider withholding judicial cooperation with Scottish Parliament committees if he was pushed on the matter.

WHEN EIGHT LETTERS TOLL – Letters from a Lord President:

Lord Gill’s first letter of 5th February 2013 to the Public Petitions Committee put the top judge’s views squarely against the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Transparency good for everyone else, except judges – Lord Gill wrote of his disdain for equal application of transparency to judges: “The petition appears to proceed on an apparent misconception that equal treatment in terms of disclosure obligations of each of the three branches of Government is desirable. The three branches have significantly different roles to perform. The judicial role requires independence and impartiality in relation to the individual case which the judge has to decide. In this context, tire potential for conflict of interest or apparent bias extends beyond pecuniary interests alone. The judge’s duty of disclosure is more far-reaching than a bare listing of particular pecuniary interests identified by legislation as warranting disclosure. For example, a judge’s disclosure duties, as set out in the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics, will extend to material relationships.”

Oaths & handshakes run the courts, not transparency – says top judge.

Lord Gill claimed there was no need for transparency because judges are subject to oaths and rules – written, and approved by – judges.

Lord Gill wrote: “Another reason why there is no practical need for this measure is that there are currently sufficient safeguards to ensure that judicial impartiality is maintained. The current safeguards in place in Scotland are established by the terms of the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics for the Scottish Judiciary and the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.”

Giving an indication of the sheer scale of undeclared judicial interests, Lord Gill admitted Judges have so many interests & earnings, it would be impossible to list them all.

Gill wrote: “In practical terms it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case. The terms of the Judicial Oath and the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”

Lord Gill claimed those seeking judicial transparency must be aggressive. The top judge wrote: “The introduction of such a register could also have unintended consequences. Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants. It is possible that the information held on such a register could be abused. These are significant concerns. If publicly criticised or attacked, the judicial office holder cannot publicly defend himself or herself, unlike a politician.

Lord Gill went onto claim if transparency were applied to the judiciary, this would make it impossible to recruit judges.

Lord Gill wrote: “The establishment of such a register therefore may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the Judiciary. It also raises the question whether such a measure would have an adverse impact on the recruitment and retention of the Judiciary.”

After further enquiries from MSPs who issued the top judge with invitation to give evidence before the Scottish Parliament, Lord Gill wrote a second letter of 2 April 2013 to the Public Petitions Committee.

In his letter, Lord Gill claimed that since European judges did not disclose their vast interests, neither should Scottish or UK judges.

Gill wrote: ““In my written evidence I referred to the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption’s (GRECO) Fourth Evaluation Round Report, which was then unpublished. This report has just been published.”

Eager to avoid giving evidence in public and facing questions on why judges wealth & interests must remain a secret, Lord Gill also refused to attend and give evidence.

The top judge wrote: “I hope that you will not think it discourteous of me to decline your invitation. As your fellow members noted in their discussion, I have provided a detailed response. On reflection, I think that I could not add any material points to the terms of my response.”

The unprecedented move by Lord Gill to refuse an invitation to give evidence before the Scottish Parliament and face questions from MSPs was widely condemned and featured in several media reports.

Lord Gill’s third letter of 28 May 2013 to the Public Petitions Committee refused a second invitation to appear before MSPs.

The top judge clearly did no wish to account for his opposition to the creation of a register of judicial Interests.

In his letter to Committee Convener David Stewart, Lord Gill implied he may have to restrict judicial cooperation with Scottish Parliamentary Committees.

Gill wrote: Judges have from time to time given evidence to committees of the Scottish Parliament on matters that affect the administration of justice in Scotland. I hope that that has been helpful in the legislative process. Judicial participation in the work of the committees must however be kept within prudent limits.”

The top judge went on to claim loopholes in the Scotland Act prevented members of the judiciary being called to give evidence before MSPs.

The top judge said in his letter: “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.”

“When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

Venting his frustration with the Scottish Parliament’s investigation, Gill went on to write: “In my correspondence with you I have set out carefully why I believe that a register of interests for the judiciary is both unnecessary and unworkable. I have directed you to an independent scrutiny of the judiciary in the United Kingdom that has on two occasions considered and rejected the need for such a register.”

Following on from an unprecedented private meeting between the Convener & Deputy Convener of the Public Petitions Committee and the Lord President, Lord Gill’s fourth letter of 21 February 2014 took up the subject of judicial recusals.

The top judge announced in his letter his staff had devised a method for listing recusals of judges in cases where an interest of a judicial figure meant they could not hear the case.

The information accumulated from judicial recusals would also be regularly published – a first in Scotland.

Lord Gill wrote: “When we met on you asked me to consider whether it would be possible to make publicly available information about cases in which a judge or sheriff formally recuses him or herself from hearing a case.”

“I am pleased to say that my officials have devised a means by which this can be achieved. Court Clerks will inform the Judicial Office for Scotland when a judge or sheriff has to recuse. The reason for recusal will be provided. The fact of recusal and the reason for it will appear on the Judiciary of Scotland website (http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk).

“I intend to commence the collection of information from 1 April 2014 to give time for the administrative arrangements to be put in place. The website will be updated as notification of recusal is received.”

Lord Gill’s fifth letter of 5th June 2014 took an abrasive tone.

The top judge set out to challenge the views of Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Moi Ali – who supported the introduction of a register of judicial interests.

Clearly angered by wider support for a register of judicial interests, Lord Gill wrote in his letter: “I do not share Ms Ali’s view that a register of interests is essential, I do not believe that such a register is necessary. I set out my views in my letter to you of 5 February 2013. My views remain the same.”

Gill also claimed there was no evidence of public concern about the judiciary: “Ms Ali suggests that a failure to institute a register of judicial interests will create suspicion, and that this will in turn undermine judicial credibility. I am not aware of any recent evidence that there is public concern about the integrity of the judiciary. In my view the terms of the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the provisions of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 for the regulation of judicial conduct are effective safeguards that enjoy public confidence.”

The exasperated top judge also had a go at suggestions the rules on judicial complaints were not fit for purpose.

Gill wrote: “The Judicial Complaints Reviewer suggests that the rules about complaints against the judiciary – the Complaints about the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2013 – are not fit for purpose. I disagree. Our experience of operating the Rules, since they were introduced in 2011, is that they provide a system for review that effectively filters out complaints that are without substance, while providing an effective hearing mechanism in others.

The unconvincing two page letter from the top judge disagreed with every single point raised by the JCR on transparency and judicial interests. Gill even opposed the Judicial Reviewer’s views on a clean up of the rules around judicial complaints.

In a sixth letter from Lord Gill to the Public Petitions Committee, dated 1st April 2014, the top judge, annoyed by questions over why an existing register of interests for Scottish Court Service Board members could not be applied to the entire judiciary, claimed there were different factors at play.

Again, an abrasive tone by the top judge featured in his written comments to MSPS.

Lord Gill said: “I have carefully set out for the Committee my reasons for believing that a register of interests for members of the judiciary is unnecessary. My view is shared by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, and the Chief Justices in the other jurisdictions of the UK. It is a view that has been endorsed by external international scrutiny through the work of Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in its evaluation reports in 2001 and 2014.”

The position of the judicial office holders on the board of the SCS is entirely different. The requirement of those judicial office holders who are members of the SCS to register their interests arises in the context of their membership of a public body. The disclosure of their interests arises from their work as board members, which may involve the placing of contracts and employment questions. It is not related to their holding judicial office. As members of the SCS they do not exercise judicial functions.”

Lord Gill again pointed to the lack of declarations of European judges as an example allowing members of Scotland’s judiciary to withhold any information of their wealth, business links & interests from public disclosure.

The seventh letter from Lord Gill to the Public Petitions Committee, dated 21 November 2014 – furnished MSPs with details of judicial recusals.

The top judge gave three examples of recusal matters in his letter to MSPs.

Lord Gill wrote: “The first group of cases are cases where judges or sheriffs realise, in advance of the hearing, that they have a personal interest in the case or have had some personal connection with a party or a witness and, without further ado, recuse themselves. This is by far the most common situation.”

“The second category are cases where judges or sheriffs realise that there is some factor in the case of which the parties may be unaware, that, while not necessitating recusal, might nevertheless cause them concern. In such situations, the appropriate procedure is for the judge or sheriff to draw the matter to the attention of the parties either before or at the outset of the hearing and invite their comments. If either party should suggest that the judge or sheriff should withdraw from the case, it will then be for the judge or sheriff to decide whether or not to withdraw. The legal principles affecting that decision are well established. In cases of this kind, it cannot be said that the judge or sheriff is recusing as a result of representations made by the bench. In reality, the recusal arises because of the initiative of the judge or sheriff in bringing the matter to the notice of the parties.”

“The third situation that could arise is where a judge or sheriff who has an interest that would justify recusal says nothing about it and thereafter has to recuse himself or herself when a party raises the matter. We have no record of any instance of this.”

Notably, not one recusal involved any disclosure of a substantial interest of a judicial figure.

And, underlying the lack of credibility of the current recusals register – not one financial or property related interest recusal of judges who earn up to £220K a year was provided to MSPs.

The eighth letter from Lord Gill to the Public Petitions Committee, dated 1 April 2015, was an eighty seven page summary on changes in the rules on judicial complaints – changes already branded window dressing by the media.

Again, fearing public questions from MSPs, Gill consigned himself to written claims the rules changes were a development after a consultation, conducted by Lord Gill himself.

Gill wrote: “I am pleased to inform you that we have today published the new Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2015 and associated guidance. As you know the new Rules and guidance were developed following a consultation on the Rules. I also enclose my official response to the consultation and associated documents.”

“The new Rules and guidance for complainers simplify and streamline the process for dealing with complaints and make clear the matters that can properly be investigated.”

However, Moi Ali – Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer criticised the rules as lacking.

Ms Ali said: “I conducted a detailed consultation of my own when I was Judicial Complaints Reviewer, speaking with those who had used the complaints process. They deemed it unfit for purpose at that time.”

Ms Ali continued: “I am disappointed that the thrust of my response to the Lord President, based on that feedback from ordinary Scots, has not been incorporated. I asked for more user-friendly, plain English Rules, but this has not happened. I also hoped that a mindset that welcomed complaints and recognised the genuine value of encouraging complaints would have shaped the new Rules, but instead the inbuilt deterrent to complainers remains. The new Rules are an opportunity missed.”

A few weeks after Lord Gill’s last letter to the Public Petitions Committee, Gill retired as Scotland’s top judge at the end of May.

During a meeting of the Public Petitions Committee in May, the outgoing top judge was chastised by MSPs for his role in protecting the vested interests of the judiciary.

Jackson Carlaw MSP (Scottish Conservative) commented during the Committee hearing: “I understand that the Lord President is due to retire in due course, and we will wish him well. He will leave knowing that he has managed to protect all the vested interests that he has so assiduously sought to represent in the conduct of this petition. As we will be hearing from Gillian Thompson, who is new to her position, it may even be that there will be more enlightened engagement with the Lord President’s successor, so I am all for keeping the show on the road.

On the conclusion of an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament in late June 2015 with Gillian Thompson, the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Lord Gill was invited for a third time to attend the Public Petitions Committee and give evidence on his opposition to judicial transparency and a register of judges’ interests.

Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, John Pentland MSP commented: “The question for the Committee is this: is it reasonable for the ordinary man and woman to expect transparency from our judges in their dealings and their interests? Gillian Thompson, the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer believes it is, and echoed the views of her predecessor when she gave evidence to the Committee.”

Mr Pentland continued: “The Committee will continue to consider what further work could be done to increase transparency. It was unfortunate that Lord Gill felt it was inappropriate to give evidence while he was Lord President of the Court of Session, But as he has now stepped down from his role, the Committee has agreed to extend another invitation to him to discuss his perspective on this important topic. We also look forward to inviting the new Lord President to give evidence to the Committee, once they are in post.”

It was recently revealed Lord Brian Gill emerged from his brief summer retirement – taking up an appointment as a supplementary panel judge at the London based UK Supreme Court.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

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SUDDEN EXIT, M’LORD: Documents reveal 30 day notice of top judge to quit post of Lord President – after battle with Parliament on judicial transparency & register of judges’ interests

I’m off in 30 days – top judge. THE EVENTS surrounding the sudden retirement of Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill remain as shrouded in mystery as some court reports – as documents released by the Scottish Government reveal the short notice Brian Gill gave to Scotland’s First Minister – of his intention to leave office thirty days later on 31 May 2015.

Gill unexpectedly stood down from the role as head of Scotland’s judiciary earlier this year after waging  a bitter two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over plans to create a register of interests for judges.

The documents, released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request also reveal short exchanges between Stephen Humphreys of the Judicial Office & staff of the Scottish Government’s justice directorate – who appear to have been caught unaware by the sudden announcement.

In the Lord President’s letter to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Brian Gill (73) thanked members of the Scottish Government past & present for ‘their support’ during his tenure of office – support which included Scottish Ministers attempts to undermine and block a Scottish Parliamentary investigation into the judiciary’s secretive links to big business, financial interests and other vested interests.

In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – who personally intervened earlier this year in a bid to thwart a register of judicial interests going ahead, praised Lord Gill for his service to the court.

The First Minister also wrote of Lord Gill’s “legacy to the justice system in Scotland” – referring to his work on the Scottish Civil Courts Review – sought to change some of the antiquated structures of Scotland’s expensive, closed shop and out of reach civil courts.

Just prior to the launch of the report on civil justice in Scotland – which took two years to complete, Lord Brian Gill condemned the civil justice system as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose”

In a speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference several years ago, reproduced in full here Lord Gill said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.

“It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice.”

In reality, much of Lord Gill’s recommendations contained in the Civil Courts Review were watered down by the Scottish Government who commissioned the Taylor Review – carried out at the insistence of the legal establishment – who feared giving the public easier and cheaper access to court would impact on the dwindling profits of Scots law firms.

The First Minister ends her letter by wishing Lord Gill the very best for his retirement.

However the former top judge’s retirement appears to have been short lived after it came to light Lord Brian Gill is now sitting again as a judge on the UK Supreme Court, based in London.

From Lord President Lord Gill to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

I have today sent you formal notice of my retirement from the offices of Lord President and Lord Justice General.

I write to thank you and your predecessor, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his predecessor, and the civil servants in your various departments for all the support and encouragement that I have received during my tenure of office.

It has been one of the great privileges of my life to serve in the offices that I have held.

I am pleased to tell you that the work of the Superior Courts, civil and criminal, and of my Private Office is up to date. I have every confidence that the Superior Courts and my Private Office will continue to function efficiently while my successor is being recruited.

In response, the First Minister thanked the outgoing Lord President for service to the courts and tenure as top judge:

Letter from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Lord Gill:

Thank you for your letter of 1 May 2015, together with your formal letter informing me of your intention to retire from the offices of Lord President and Lord Justice General General as of 31 May 2015.

I am enormously grateful for the service you have given as a judge in Scotland since 1994 and, in particular, for your service in the offices of the Lord President and Lord Justice General over these past three years.

Your legacy to the justice system in Scotland will continue to endure in areas but I would highlight your proposals for the far-reaching reform of the civil courts system in Scotland that will result in a more modern and efficient court system fit for the 21st Century.

Once again, I am very grateful for your distinguished service and, may I take this opportunity to wish you and Lady Gill all the very best for your retirement

JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY PETITION & SCOTTISH MINISTERS:

The judicial transparency petition – opposed by Scottish Ministers & Lord Gill – nevertheless enjoys cross party support. The petition has been the subject of a two year investigation by Holyrood and proposes the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali gave the judicial transparency proposal her full backing. During the evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali provided a first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current JCR Gillian Thompson OBE gave further support for the plan to create a register of interests for judges during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

A full parliamentary debate on the question of creating a register of judicial interests was reported along with  video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges & here : Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Last Friday, Justice Diary revealed Lord Brian Gill has since come out of retirement and now sits on the supplementary panel of judges at the London based UK Supreme Court.

 

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SUPREME, LORD: Scotland’s ex top judge Brian Gill who opposed Holyrood on judicial transparency & judges’ interests register – joins subs bench of UK Supreme Court

Lording it – Brian Gill moves to London. SCOTLAND’S former top judge – Lord Brian Gill who surprised the Scots legal world with the announcement of his sudden retirement in May 2015 – has been appointed to the supplementary panel of judges of the UK Supreme Court.

The UK Supreme Court today confirmed the appointment of Lord Gill to the panel of supplementary judges who sit on the London based UK Supreme Court.

A UKSC spokesperson said: “The supplementary panel on which Lord Gill is now a member has only been called upon once or twice in the last legal year. “

He added: “It is quite rare for the UKSC to invite Acting Justices to sit.”

Earlier this year, Brian Gill was invited to join the supplementary panel of judges – which can be called upon by the President of the Supreme Court to sit on specific cases where necessary.

The legislative framework for ‘Acting Justices’ on the UK Supreme Court states a person who holds the office of a senior territorial judge can be invited to act as a judge of the court at the request of the President of the Supreme Court. The legislative framework & conditions for such appointments is here: Acting judges & supplementary panel of UK Supreme Court

Now a UKSC supplementary judge – Brian Gill (73) – who became Scotland’s longest serving judge – served a short three year term as Lord President.

Gill unexpectedly stood down from the role as head of Scotland’s judiciary after waging  a bitter two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over plans to create a register of interests for judges – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

The judicial transparency petition which enjoys cross party support – has been the subject of a two year investigation by Holyrood and proposes the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali gave the judicial transparency proposal her full backing.

During the evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali provided a first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current JCR Gillian Thompson OBE gave further support for the plan to create a register of interests for judges during an evidence session with msps at Holyrood in June 2015.

Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill did not take kindly to the transparency proposal – or the public debate around openness and accountability of the judiciary.

Gill branded the media & court users as “aggressive” and demanded judges be allowed to keep their wealth and connections to big business – a secret.

Lord Gill then refused two invitations to appear before MSPs to face questions on his hostility towards judicial transparency.

The top judge – who took increasingly aggressive positions in his hard line letters to Holyrood – also hinted he may have to reconsider how judges interact with the Scottish Parliament and claimed loopholes in the Scotland Act prevented elected politicians from calling judges to account over their hidden interests.

Previous Lord President & Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton – who was highly respected while in the role as Scotland’s top judge – joined the UKSC supplementary panel after his retirement as Lord President in 2012. Lord Hamilton has not yet sat on the panel.

In stark comparison to Lord Gill’s anti-judicial transparency policy, Lord President Lord Hamilton moved to increase transparency around judicial expenses & travel during 2010 after law journalists from Diary of Injustice – the previous version of this law blog – submitted freedom of information requests asking for judicial expenses (routinely published in England & Wales) to be made available in Scotland.

The FOI request was made to the Scottish Courts Service under the then Lord President Lord Hamilton – after the Scottish Government denied any figures existed for judicial expenses.

Some weeks after the DOI report on judicial expenses, featured in August 2010 – expenses claims of high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims, Lord Hamilton amended Scottish Courts policy to publish judicial expenses figures on a quarterly basis.

The welcome move by Lord Hamilton was featured in a further article here: Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online.

TOP JUDGE WHO SAID NO TO TRANSPARENCY & SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT:

Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill fiercely opposes calls for any form of transparency & public accountability of the judiciary and Scotland’s Courts.

Over the course of nearly two years, Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill waged an aggressive campaign against a Scottish Parliament investigation into calls for a register of judicial interests. The register proposal would reveal the judiciarys’ vast personal, undeclared wealth, extensive family and business connections throughout the legal profession, links to big business, offshore trusts & investments, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of ‘creative’ arrangements, directorships, shareholdings, and even unpublished criminal records of members of the judiciary.

Lord Gill refused at least two invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence and face questions on his opposition to the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. The top judge has also used the Scotland Act as a loophole to avoid further scrutiny on the matter.

Lord Gill’s challenge to MSPs declared judicial opposition to transparency. In Lord Gill’s opening letter to MSPs on the call for a register of judicial interests, the judge claimed “In practical terms it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case. The terms of the Judicial Oath and the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”

In what was a hint of the sheer hostility felt by the judiciary against a call to bring transparency to judges interests, Lord Gill went onto accuse the media, press, litigants, court users and just about everyone else with an interest in transparency of being potentially hostile and aggressive, simply because someone may wish to raise questions of judges interests similar to the same kinds of questions which are raised of interests in other public officials and those in public life, politics & government.

And, if MSPs were unsure of the depth of Lord Gill’s attitude towards transparency, the top judge went on to refuse to appear before the Scottish Parliament, and used a loophole in the Scotland Act to justify his sweeping declaration he did not require to answer questions from Scotland’s democratically elected politicians.

Lord Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill implied cooperation with Parliament would be withdrawn over calls to make judges more transparent in register : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”

The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

As  Scotland’s top judge continued to oppose the creation of a register of interests, MSPs held a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on Thursday 7 October 2014, which saw cross party support for the proposal. MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458, urging the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The parliamentary debate was reported along with  video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges & here : Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Justice Diary including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

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TO PLAY THE PRESIDENT: Transparency, diversity & judicial reform on the cards as hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge & Lord President of the Court of Session

The hunt for Scotland’s next top judge. APPLICATIONS to be Scotland’s next top judge are now being considered under a closed door process & selection panel set up to find a new Lord President of the Court of Session –  some three months after the sudden retirement of Scotland’s longest serving judge – Lord Brian Gill.

The selection panel who will interview, shortlist and then recommend a suitable candidate for the position of Lord President to the First Minister by – no later than Friday 30 October – is made up of: Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session.

The position of Lord President – with a salary of £220,655 a year, including perks such as access to international travel and unrivalled power to challenge the Scottish Parliament – is responsible for leadership of the entire Scottish judiciary, in addition to chairing the Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The office holder is the most senior judge in Scotland, with authority over any court established under Scots law, apart from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The previous holder of the office – Brian Gill (73) retired abruptly in May 2015 after serving across three decades on the bench. Gill ended his last three years as a member of the judiciary on the top spot as Lord President & Lord Justice General from 8 June 2012 to 31 May 2015.

Brian Gill was widely respected as a reforming judge for his work on the Scottish Civil Courts Review – which saw the then Lord President issue a scathing condemnation of Scotland’s Civil justice system as “Victorian” and that of a legal system which Lord Gill said, with long experience – was “failing the litigant and it is failing society”.

However, the top judge eventually came unstuck after waging a controversial two year battle against the Scottish Parliament in an effort to thwart proposals to require members of the judiciary to declare their vast and varied interests.

The judicial transparency proposal – which provoked the now retired top judge to use loopholes within the Scotland Act against the Scottish Parliament – call for the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Now, the process begins where applications must now conform to a deadline for referees – Monday 24 August 2015 (midnight), then are subject to sifting – taking place on Wednesday 2 September 2015, invitation to interview by Monday 7 September 2015, with interviews held on Monday 5 October 2015 and finally – recommendations to First Minister by Friday 30 October 2015.

The Lord President is the senior judge in Scotland and the head of the Scottish judiciary. In addition to its judicial duties, the office carries with it responsibilities for the administration of justice in Scotland. These responsibilities include the general supervision of the business of the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary, the initiation and preparation of all subordinate legislation made by those Courts, and an important role in the development of policy concerning the courts and the judiciary in Scotland. In addition, the Lord President has various statutory functions, for example, in relation to the membership and rules of procedure of various tribunals, the regulation of the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland and, along with the Lord Justice Clerk, the removal from office of sheriffs.

The Lord President also acts as chairing member of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) which provides administrative support to the Scottish Courts and judiciary, and to the Scottish Tribunals and members. It is for the Lord President, along with the other SCTS members, to provide visible leadership and strategic direction to drive the necessary reform and continuous improvement which will enable the SCTS to develop.

This week, the Scottish Sun on Sunday newspaper featured an in depth two page report on the hunt for a new Lord President:

 Who’ll be the judge?

REFORMS CALL AS LEGAL ELITE CHALLENGE FOR TOP JOB

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

THE hunt is on for Scotland’s new top judge — and applicants have until tomorrow to throw their wigs in the ring.

If chosen as Lord President of the Court of Session, they will be handed a £220,655 salary and enormous power.

But here, The Scottish Sun on Sunday’s RUSSELL FINDLAY finds out why tackling the judiciary’s secrecy and vested interests should be the top priority for our next top Lord — or Lady.

THE historic title dates back to 1532 when its first holder wasn’t just in charge of every Scots judge but also a community of monks.

Alexander Mylne, abbot of Cambuskenneth Abbey, near Stirling, was given the grand title of Lord President of the Court of Session by King James V. Since then bishops, barons, lords, earls and viscounts have all had turns in the lofty post.

But campaigners insist the next top beak must be prepared to do what no other Lord President has done — put an end to our legal system’s culture of secrecy and drag it into the 21st century.

The vacancy at the top of the judicial tree was created in May when the previous incumbent announced he was retiring after an astonishing public spat with Holyrood.

Lord Gill, 73, twice refused to attend the parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to discuss a proposed register of interests.

MSPs wanted him to explain his fierce opposition to moves that would require judges to reveal their personal, business and financial secrets.

He claimed the principle of judicial independence from political interference meant he could not be forced to attend.

But critics insist the law is meant to stop judges being quizzed on court verdicts, not administrative issues.

And Lord Gill’s snub united all parties in anger.

Scots Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw has since secured the issue of a fresh invite to the retired judge.

Fellow committee member John Wilson said: “It’s not up to politicians to meddle in court decisions but proper independent scrutiny of judges’ undeclared interests and conduct is long overdue.

“Their business dealings have to be absolutely clear.

“Anyone appearing in front of a judge — for a criminal or civil case — needs to know if they have any direct or indirect vested interests.”

Mr Wilson believes our legal elite should be embracing reform, not opposing it.

The independent MSP said: “This is about strengthening the credibility of our judiciary so no one can point a finger and say they were unfairly treated because a judge did not declare an interest.”

The public petition being discussed by MSPs was lodged by Peter Cherbi. The campaigner, from Edinburgh, claims he was stung by lawyers and the self-regulation which he believes protects them.

And he thinks that, after almost 500 years of men, a woman is needed at the top.

Mr Cherbi said: “It’s time for the old boys’ club to be rocked by a Lady President.

“I’d want her to maintain the judiciary’s independence and integrity while bringing it into the 21st century for both transparency and accountability.”

The role as the 45th nor-Lord President would normally be expected to go to Lord Carloway, 61, our secondmost senior judge.

But insiders say the Lord Justice Clerk is tainted by his backing of the SNP government’s failed bid to scrap corroboration in Scots Law.

The proposal was opposed by his judicial colleagues.

Another contender is Lady Smith, 60.

She could make history as first female presiding judge of the College of Justice and the Court of Session. Lady Smith would also take up the titles of Lord Justice General of Scotland and the head of the High Court of Justiciary.

But first she’d have to win approval from a selection panel, then be nominated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, right, and the Prime Minister before being formally appointed by the Queen.

The Lord President hears complex appeals, runs our courts, makes reforms and is consulted by the UK and Scottish governments. Based at Parliament House in Edinburgh, he or she can shun MSPs down the Royal Mile at the new Parly building and is exempt from freedom of information laws.

The Lord President also cannot be held to account by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

That was one of many reasons that persuaded Moi Ali to quit after she became the first person appointed to the role. Ms Ali stood down last year because she was unable to alter the system of our judges regulating their own conduct.

She would like to see the Scottish Government give the public the same powers to scrutinise them as exists in England and Wales.

Ms Ali said: “The government should but I don’t think they will because the judiciary here is incredibly powerful. They will not be challenged. England and Wales are light years ahead in terms of holding judges to account.

“That surprises me as our government says it believes in social justice and putting citizens first, not vested interests.” Ms Ali, a Scottish Police Authority board member, also blasted Lord Gill’s snubbing of Holyrood’s Petitions Committee.

She said: “It brought into focus how out of touch he was.

“It’s about coming up to the standards expected in every other sphere of public life. He did the judiciary a great disservice because he confirmed the stereotypes.”

As for Lord Gill’s replacement, Ms Ali added: “It would be nice for it to be a woman to help redress the balance of the past 500 years.

“But it should be the right person for the job, someone who will bring about change. If that is a man, that’s fine by me.”

SCANDAL OF VICE, BOOZE AND BRAWLS

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

Disgraced … sheriffs Neilson, Lothian and Anthony all resigned

SHAMED lawmen have landed in the dock for violence, drink driving and fraud — with others forced to quit after being caught in a brothel.

Sheriff Hugh Neilson was found in a sex sauna in Glasgow during a police raid in 2004.

He said he was only there for a shave but later resigned and was last year convicted of drink driving.

Sheriff Andrew Lothian quit in 2008 over claims that he had regular sex sessions with prostitutes at an Edinburgh sauna.

And Sheriff Robert Anthony QC was forced to leave his post in 2010 when cops caught him driving on the M8 while more than three times the legal booze limit.

Justice of the Peace Peter Drummond was convicted in April of punching a man in a pub fight in Cowdenbeath.

Another dodgy law chief was convicted of benefit fraud.

But his or her identity was kept secret from the public.

Former Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali highlighted cases of alleged misbehaviour by mystery judges.

One was accused of a “tyrannical rant” at a female dog walker who was left “shaking with nerves” and felt “very intimidated”.

And an unnamed sheriff was accused of secretly recording conversations after being branded a bully.

BEAKS URGED FOR CLARITY OVER SHARES

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

CRITICS have called on judges to declare their private shares in big businesses to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Peter Watson was suspended from sitting as a sheriff by law chief Lord Gill in February.

The lawyer — whose clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond — was briefly a director of Mathon, run by tycoon Gregory King.

King was a director of hedge fund Heather Capital that was the subject of a massive fraud probe after its collapse.

Heather Capital’s liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against Watson’s former law firm Levy & McRae.

We later revealed that Watson, below, had also been a director of a private bank which King planned to launch in Gibraltar — and held shares in new Edinburgh-based private bank Hampden & Co.

Last year a Scottish Sun investigation found Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop owned shares in a company hit with a £13.9million proceeds of crime bill for bribing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The same sheriff also heard a case involving Tesco despite having shares in the supermarket chain.

There was no suggestion of wrongdoing but it fuelled calls for transparency.

Judges are subject to self-regulating system and take an oath to “do right” by people “without fear or favour”.

 

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A GRAND DAY IN: Judicial attendance & walkout over Wikileaks founder at Commonwealth Law Conference and Lord Gill’s ‘transparency is insidious’ speech ends up costing taxpayers £15K

Judges splurged £15K on Glasgow Law gathering then fled at sight of Wikileaks transparency advocate. THE COST of sending nine Scottish judges including Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill from Edinburgh to a law conference held in the remote, far away city of Glasgow – cost taxpayers fifteen thousand pounds – according to information released this week by the Judicial Office.

However, Lord Gill’s grand day out to the Commonwealth Law Conference (CLC2015) – where Scotland’s top judge grimaced & growled, hurling jibes at everyone & everything, from transparency to the political process – was cut short when Gill (73) led a hastily arranged judicial walkout after it was revealed Julian Assange – founder of Wikileaks – was booked to talk live at the event via a digital link.

The information, released by the Judicial Office in response to a Freedom of Information request reveals one booking for 9 judicial office holders to attend the Commonwealth Law Conference 2015 cost £14,823.66.

The following judicial office holders were originally booked to attend the conference: Lord President, Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Armstrong, Lord Woolman, Lord Mathews, Lady Dorrian and 3 Sheriffs were authorised to attend on behalf of the Sheriffs Association (names unknown at time of booking).

Following the bookings being made, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian and Lord Armstrong were unable to attend due to court commitments.

Sir Muir Russell was invited to attend the conference and agreed to chair a session entitled “A model form for judicial appointments in the 21st century Commonwealth”. That session was scheduled to take place on the morning of Thursday 16 April.

Book them in – Judicial Office release details of CLC 2015 costs. Sheriff Principal Scott agreed to chair a session entitled “Human trafficking and migration”, which was scheduled to take place on the morning of Wednesday 15 April.

In respect of the Sheriffs that were booked to attend the conference on behalf of the Sheriffs Association, it became clear in the lead up to the conference that not all could attend for the full conference due to court commitments. Agreement was therefore reached with the conference organisers that different sheriffs could attend for certain days and sessions.

The following sheriffs represented the Sheriffs Association at the conference: Sheriff Liddle; Sheriff Wood; Sheriff Di Emidio; Sheriff Jamieson; Sheriff Shead; and Sheriff Pettigrew.

1. The total figure quoted is for attendance at the conference only and includes VAT.  One judicial office holder has claimed travel expenses.

On 19 May the Judicial Office received a T&S claim that related to travel to the conference.  This was in respect of rail costs and travel by private car (mileage costs reimbursed).  The total amount claimed is £17.05.  No accommodation was booked for anyone attending the conference.

2. There was a set fee for attendance at the conference.  The fee was: £1400 plus VAT (£1680) per booking.  This was the “early bird” rate. One other fee was charged at £1144 plus VAT and a service charge of £34.86 (£1,383.66) as the booking was paid by credit card.  There was a discount applied to this booking as SP Scott, who the booking was made for, agreed to chair a session at the event.

Lastly, in respect of the subsequent withdrawal by members of the judiciary relating to the conference booking of Mr Assange, the only information released by the Judicial Office was a copy of a statement that was issued on 16 April 2015 following a press enquiry.

The statement read: “The conference programme was changed to include Mr Assange’s participation at short notice and without consultation. Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him. Under these circumstances the Lord President, Lord Gill and the other Scottish judicial office holders in attendance have withdrawn from the conference.”

However, Scotland’s top judge managed to blast his critics in his opening speech – given prior to Lord Gill ordering judicial colleagues to evacuate the event.

Launching a fierce attack on calls for judicial transparency, the political process and the Scottish Parliament – who are investigating accountability and transparency within the judiciary amid calls for a register of judges interests, Lord Gill told his audience: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  In a society that prides itself on the  independence  of  its  judiciary,  the  threat  may  come  in  insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically,  in the name of  transparency.”

Gill, clearly not a fan of Wikileaks, or judicial transparency, or judges declaring their interests – is more used to jet setting off to law conferences held around the world in venues far removed from Scotland.

In 2013, Lord Carloway – who is currently standing in for the now retired Lord Gill – flew off to Cape Town, South Africa to attend the Commonwealth Law Conference at a cost of £5541.37. Lord Gill also took the jet to the same venue, his ticket costing  taxpayers a little less at £3233.31.

More on the jet set lifestyle of Scotland’s judiciary can be read here LORD FLY-BYE: Scotland’s courts in the slow lane as judges prefer law conferences, business & ‘diplomatic’ trips to life on the bench

In 2014, Lord Gill splurged £2855 on a ticket for his five day state visit to the positively honest, reputable middle eastern dictatorship of Qatar – reported here: LORD JET SET: Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill takes 5 day STATE VISIT to Qatar as investigation reveals judiciary’s international travel junkets spree

 

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Lord NO-NO to GO-GO: Scotland’s top judge Lord Brian Gill steps down after controversial three year term as Lord President – amid battles with Holyrood, media & transparency

Lord Gill to ‘retire’ after run-ins with politicians, press & transparency. SCOTLAND’S top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill has announced he is stepping down from office on 31 May 2015. Until a successor is found, the Lord President’s duties will be taken up by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway.

Gill (73) who is Scotland’s longest serving judge, has served a short three year term as Lord President, compared to previous holder of the office Lord Hamilton, who held the post for seven years.

In the course of a long and distinguished legal career Gill presided over significant changes to the Scottish legal system.

He also famously branded much of the Scots legal system as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose” in his Scottish Civil Courts Review – which sought to change some of the antiquated structures of Scotland’s expensive, closed shop and out of reach civil courts.

However many of the Civil Courts Review proposals were watered down by the Taylor Review, carried out at the insistence of the Scottish Government and the legal establishment – who feared giving the public easier and cheaper access to court may affect law firms’ profits.

For the past two years, Lord Gill fought a very public and bitter battle with the Scottish Parliament concerning MSPs investigations of transparency and accountability in the Scottish judiciary, amid plans to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Gill refused three invitations to appear before MSPs to give evidence on his intense opposition to a register requiring judges to declare their significant wealth and links to big business.

Faced with a no-show of Scotland’s top judge, members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee took evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali. During questions at the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, Moi Ali told msps there was little transparency or accountability in Scotland’s judiciary.

And, in spite of Scottish Ministers attempts to thwart a debate at Holyrood last October 2014, msps overwhelmingly backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests – reported along with video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges

At the recent Commonwealth Law Conference held in Glasgow during March 2015, Lord Gill fired another salvo at politicians, transparency and the democratic process – branding all as “insidious”.

Lord Gill told his startled audience: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  In a society that prides itself on the  independence  of  its  judiciary,  the  threat  may  come  in  insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically,  in the name of  transparency.”

After the speech, Gill and several judicial figures including Lord Neuberger fled the conference after learning Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was booked to speak at the event.

Lord Gill also supported the retention of corroboration – a key legal safeguard against miscarriage of justice – where evidence must be verified by two sources.

Brian Gill was first appointed as a Senator of the College of Justice in 1994. He was appointed Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General in June 2012, having held the position of Lord Justice Clerk from November 2001.

Under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will now establish a panel to recommend individuals who are suitable for appointment to fill the vacancy.

It has been rumoured for several months senior figures in the Scottish Government have lobbied for a female candidate to become Scotland’s first Lady Lord President.

Court of Session judge Anne Smith, who was made President of the tribunals service by Lord Gill last summer, is seen by some as ‘a good bet for the post’.

TOP JUDGE WHO SAID NO-NO TO TRANSPARENCY & SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT:

Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill fiercely opposes calls for any form of transparency & public accountability of the judiciary and Scotland’s Courts.

Over the course of nearly two years, Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill has focussed his anger on a Scottish Parliament investigation into calls for a register of judicial interests. The register proposal would reveal the judiciary’s vast personal, undeclared wealth, extensive family and business connections throughout the legal profession, links to big business, offshore trusts & investments, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of ‘creative’ arrangements, directorships, shareholdings, and even unpublished criminal records of members of the judiciary.

Lord Gill refused at least two invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence and face questions on his opposition to the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. The top judge has also used the Scotland Act as a loophole to avoid further scrutiny on the matter.

Lord Gill’s challenge to MSPs declared judicial opposition to transparency. In Lord Gill’s opening letter to MSPs on the call for a register of judicial interests, the judge claimed “In practical terms it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case. The terms of the Judicial Oath and the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”

In what was a hint of the sheer hostility felt by the judiciary against a call to bring transparency to judges interests, Lord Gill went onto accuse the media, press, litigants, court users and just about everyone else with an interest in transparency of being potentially hostile and aggressive, simply because someone may wish to raise questions of judges interests similar to the same kinds of questions which are raised of interests in other public officials and those in public life, politics & government.

And, if MSPs were unsure of the depth of Lord Gill’s attitude towards transparency, the top judge went on to refuse to appear before the Scottish Parliament, and used a loophole in the Scotland Act to justify his sweeping declaration he did not require to answer questions from Scotland’s democratically elected politicians.

Lord Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill implied cooperation with Parliament would be withdrawn over calls to make judges more transparent in register : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”

The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

Even though Scotland’s top judge opposes the creation of a register of interests, MSPs held a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on Thursday 7 October 2014, which saw cross party support for the proposal. MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458, urging the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The parliamentary debate was reported by Diary of Injustice along with video coverage here: TRANSPARENCY TIME: Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Civil Courts Review : Scots Justice still “Victorian” years after judge called for reforms:

The Scottish Civil Courts Review of 2009 authored by then Lord Justice Clerk, now Lord President Lord Brian Gill, castigated Scotland’s Civil Justice System as being Victorian, costly, and unfit for purpose, yet years on from the review, little of the proposed reforms have been implemented due to pressure from vested interests in the legal world, and a lack of political will to deliver access to justice to all Scots.

The Civil Courts Review can be viewed online here : Scottish Civil Courts Review Synopsis, Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol1 Chapters 1-9 & Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol2 Chapters 10-15

Gill, giving a speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference several years ago, reproduced in full here said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.

“It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice.”

Previous articles on the Civil Courts Review and reforms of Scotland’s antiquated civil justice system can be found on Diary of Injustice here: Scottish Civil Courts Review.

 

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